Six Things You Can Do to Create a Better Learning Environment for Your Teen. (Some will surprise you!)

Grades are an illusion.

Passion and insight are reality.

–Seth Godin

We all want our teens to be happy. We all want our teens to be well educated and ready to approach life as young adults, successfully and meaningfully.  However, we operate in a society that in general treats teens with little respect or responsibility, asking them to do the day to day mundane and often stressful task of going to school completing homework, participating in extracurricular activities and or sports, studying subjects that hold little interest, and conforming to an outdated system.  If your teen is happy and thriving in this system read no further. This article is not for you.

However, if you have that little niggling thought in your head, or unhappy-despondent-teenager situation screaming in your head.. And you believe something is wrong with the system, and are looking for answers, read on! Here are a few things you can do to make life better for your teen (and you).

1. Listen.

When was the last time you really, really listened to what your teen was saying?  It seems simple, but it requires no agenda, and deep caring.  Ask your teen what s/he really wants if s/he were truly free from the constraints of society and listen. Ask what she wants her education to look like. And then listen. Listen to her/him as you would listen to your closest friend.

Your teen is a young adult with real needs, real passions, real considerations. Consider what s/he has to say. Is it possible to give your teen what s/he is saying s/he wants? Is it possible to work with her here?

There is an organization called Imagining Learning that goes to schools and sponsors listening sessions. The picture above came out of one of their Listening Sessions. They draw on the wisdom of young people to listen to how they would transform their own educational systems.  You can see if one is happening in your area, and get involved, or request one.  If your teen is unhappy with his school, this is one place to start.

2. Respect.

Check yourself. Do you really respect your teen?  In general the dominant paradigm of raising our children is somewhat authoritarian. We know what’s best, right?

But what if there is a better way?  Try stepping out of you authoritarian paradigm, and into partnership with your teen, or all of your children for that matter.

Ask yourself “what would I say to a guest in my home  in this situation? Is this how I would treat a dear friend?”  And treat your kids  accordingly.

This will take some getting used to, on your teen’s part and yours. Don’t expect things to change overnight.

But when you really move into partnership you will be deeply rewarded.

3. Pay attention to Passions.

It seems that in general today’s parents  do respect their teen’s passions. We are far different from our parents generation, where our parents struggled with our music and fashion choices, relationship choices, etc…

But I’m not sure we are all the way there. We sometimes view our own interests and passions as more valuable than our teens’. You may love the camping and surfing, and and your teen may love Black Ops 2 (a violent video game). What then? It’s tempting to believe that our values are more valuable. But it doesn’t mean we can’t deeply value theirs as well.

Especially if your teen’s interests lie outside of school or outside of your understanding,  pay attention. Ask about his interests, not in a condescending way, but in honestly wanting to get to know him way. Again it’s a listening thing: deep caring, no agenda. A way you would be curious about a friend’s passions and interests. Have him show you something interesting about what he loves.

Your teen has developed her own passions and interests and is getting close to the time when she will truly be out on her own pursuing these passions away from you anyways. It’s time for you to get to know what really floats your teen’s boat, especially if it’s part of a world you don’t understand.

Take some time invite the friends over, make your house a fun place to be. Listen to and respect their friends… Get to know their passions too.

4. Give increasing levels of freedom and responsibility.

It’s human to want freedom. We all want to be free. And this is especially true for teens.  A recent Gallup poll revealed that a slim majority of teens feel they have enough freedom- regarding music and media choice, friends, and how they spend their time. And this is good news. Our generation of parents has learned the importance of this.

However, the question of school wasn’t even addressed.  And school is not a very FREE place for teens. Many teens in school are highly stressed, often bullied, usually bored, frequently depressed and disenfranchised. Check out the film Race to Nowhere. Or at least read about it.

Ask yourself: Is a place of stress, bullying, boredom, unhappiness where I want my teen? IS this the best use of her teen years? Is school as we know it really necessary?

5. Rethink Education

A main thing to consider here is that school DOES NOT equal education.

In our society we often think that teenagehood is an important time to “pay your dues”– work real hard at your education, so you can be successful later. It’s become crazy though. So many teens are terribly stressed by the burden of school, yet our school are turning out less and less prepared young adults.

It’s like it’s working backwards– kids are trying harder than ever to succeed in school, but their critical thinking skills and creativity are becoming weaker and weaker. I have many college professor friends- and they are astounded by the incoming high school graduates’ inability to think critically or creatively.

It’s truly a myth that great performance in school leads to happiness and success in life. In fact, I would argue that great performance in school may be training kids to be obedient doers and followers, rather than free out of the box thinkers.

Everyone knows that schools are broken. It’s time to rethink this business of education that we as a society feel so attached to.

There are books written about this topic, many videos online.

Yet schools continue to march towards more standardization, more testing requirements, more of a one size fits all approach to education.

Meanwhile a quiet revolution is beginning to take place.

Take a look at this 12 minute video– the most watched TED talk of all time. “Changing Paradigms of Education” by Sir Ken Robinson.

You can download this manifesto by Seth Godin. “Stop Stealing Dreams.” or watch his corresponding TED talk here.

Seth Godin asks the question: “What is school for?” and argues that this is a critical question we all should be asking.

Instead of asking kids to go to school and do well in an outdated system, we should be asking them to “go build something interesting and meaningful.”  And if we aren’t asking this question why aren’t we?

What if your teen was free of school and able to  concentrate on his true passions, turning them into something real and marketable?

What if instead of school your teen had mentorship focusing on what truly matters to him, and explores real career choices in the process?

What if your teen let go of high school all together, and moved to the more mature and free situation of your local community college?

If your teen doesn’t seem to have passions, perhaps the problem is that school is in the way, and he truly hasn’t had enough time to ponder and imagine, create or dream. Or perhaps he is “scanner,” eager to explore many interests, not zeroing in one one or two.

In many indigenous societies, this time of transition from child to adult is a time of deep introspection and vision quests.  A time of truly challenging themselves with something that matters.  What if we are robbing our teens of the opportunity to direct their education? As Isaac Asimov says “ Self directed education is, I firmly believe,  the only kind of education there is.”

6. Know your Options

A typical high school diploma is NOT  a necessary stepping stone to a successful education.  There are several options:

a. Find another school- Though I reckon you may have already looked at this option. You may want to check out if there is a Sudbury or Democratic Free School anywhere within driving distance of you house, however.

Sudbury schools are still somewhat out of the mainstream’s attention.  They are democratically run schools where teens get real life experience running a school that they become invested in. Kids at Sudbury or Democratic Free Schools have freedom to learn what interests them.

b. Homeschool – there are many ways to do this. There is plenty of online homeschool support, or charter school homeschool support.  Often the homeschool support models ask teens to study the same subject matter that regular schools ask, but allow them to do this at their own pace, and without the distractions of a campus.

This has its pros and cons. Pros- kids get the same basic education that schools offer. Cons – kids get the same basic education schools offer.

Depends upon how important you think a general high school education is.

C. Unschool/ Eclectic Homeschool / Natural Learning –A growing group of   homeschoolers  believe that learning happens naturally, all the time, ESPECIALLY when it is not coerced. Parents and teens who believe and live these philosophies often experience the joys of learning together and gaining expertise in fields that are relevant to their kids’ interests.

Pacific Sands Academy helps mentor you and your teen through this type of education.

 D. Leave school early and go to community college.  Depending on the laws of your state, your teen can begin taking community college courses while homeschooling high school.

Alternatively, your teen can enroll and graduate from Pacific Sands Academy (in as little time as a few weeks or months), and begin attending Community College without high school restrictions.


If your teen is unhappy we encourage you to shift the paradigm you work with your teen from authoritarian to one of listening, respect and friendliness and/or  pursue one of the alternatives in education listed above.

And if you want help, we are available.

At Pacific Sands Academy, we help free you from the authoritarian standard educational paradigm. We set up monthly or weekly phone conversations to encourage your teen to set up and strive  reachable goals that matter to him/ her. We engage regularly with your teen and you on facebook or through email. We also keep in regular contact with you, as much as you want or desire.

When your teen is ready s/he completes an online portfolio demonstrating his/her passions, exploring his/her learning styles, and reflecting on his/her educational journey.

This portfolio is the main requirement to earn a high school diploma from Pacific Sands Academy. In addition, the teen turns in a letter from at least one person who know him/her  well.

Adults who never got a diploma can complete a portfolio and earn one too!

Three weeks after submitting the portfolio and letter, your teen receives a narrative transcript (that can also be used as a reference letter), and a high school diploma from Pacific Sands Academy.

Consider joining us on our exploring our life-learning journeys!

Apply today!

I believe in interest-led, self-directed learning. I love helping teens find lives of passion and fulfillment outside of traditional academia.

Posted in Opt-Out, Parent-Teen Relationships
One comment on “Six Things You Can Do to Create a Better Learning Environment for Your Teen. (Some will surprise you!)
  1. As someone who worked with both high school students and corporate for over two dozen years, the recipe is simple: Treat kids like adults, and treat adults like kids.

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